HURON — Seven years after they captured the Division II state title, the Central Catholic football team has the chance to relive that glory.
The No. 4 Irish rallied behind two fourth-quarter touchdowns Friday to dispatch Aurora 20-13 at Huron’s Memorial Stadium to advance to the 15th week of the season for the second time in school history.
Central Catholic, the state’s top-ranked team for most of the year, will face defending state champion Trotwood-Madison, who defeated New Albany, at 7 p.m. Friday at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The Irish, who averaged 45 points in their first three playoff games, were searching for answers all night before Division I prospects DeShone Kizer and Keith Towbridge connected on a 43-yard strike to the 5-yard line that led to the game-winning touchdown. Two plays later, with 7 minutes, 54 seconds to go in the game, Amir Edwards plunged across the goal line from two yards out for the first of his two scores.
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Before Towbridge beat cornerback Kirk Janoch on a double-move, Central’s potent offense had been reduced to short pickups, negative plays, and turnovers.
"It’s heart," said Towbridge, who caught four passes for 70 yards. "You just have to have mental toughness out there."
Towbridge, a Louisville recruit, also came up large on defense, sacking Aurora’s excellent George Bollas on fourth-and-18 at Central’s 29 to end the game.
Central, which outscored its first three playoff opponents 137-28, found itself deadlocked with the fifth-ranked Greenmen at halftime 7-7.
Aurora struck first, when Bollas beat Central’s edge blitz and found Zach Smierciak on an 11-yard screen pass, putting the Irish in a hole for the first time this postseason. Bollas set up the score when he squirted through a seam along the edge for 54 yards to Central’s 10, pushing the 6-foot-4 junior over 1,000 yards on the year.
Central responded on the ensuing drive, a 12-play, 67-yard series that Paul Mozes capped with a two-yard run. The rest of the half and most of the third quarter produced little offensive spark. Kizer was just 2-for-5 passing, and Edwards struggled to get loose in the open field. He had 63 yards at the break and finished with 99.
"They had a great defense," said Edwards, who entered the game with 1,501 yards rushing. "Their linebackers were moving around real good. We just had to get a good push."
Aurora squandered a scoring opportunity with less than a minute left in the second quarter, after Zach Quinn coughed up the ball at Central’s 17. Two plays earlier it looked like the Greenmen (12-2) would get a cheap score after Edwards put the ball on the turf.
"The defense saved us many times tonight," Central coach Greg Dempsey said. "They answered on a short field. They answered after we punted into the wind. At times, things are clicking and you’re scoring 50 [points]. At times you’re not. The other team’s pretty dang good."
Quinn, a University of Toledo linebacker commit who entered the night with more than 1,000 rushing yards, is battling an ankle injury, and it showed. The head of a three-headed monster in the backfield, he carried just nine times for 35 yards and finished the game on the sideline.
Trailing 14-13, Aurora advanced to its own 37, where on fourth-and-3 one of its linemen jumped. The offense stayed on the field and could not convert as Central’s Derich Weiland blanketed Jake Czerwinski on a sideline route. Two plays later, Edwards was in the end zone celebrating a 20-yard TD after he carried three or four defenders in with him.
"He looked at me in the huddle before the play," Dempsey said. "He said, ’Give me the ball and I’ll score.’ He wasn’t lying. He ran like a bronco there."
Aurora, making its second straight state semifinal appearance, blocked the extra point, keeping the score 20-13. Bollas drove the Greenmen to Central territory and left the fans sitting on the home side gasping for breath after his pass in the end zone on third down was nearly snared by running back Jake McVay. After Towbridge wrestled Bollas to the ground moments later, the Irish sideline erupted.
All that stands between Central Catholic and its dream season is Trotwood-Madison, which has won 10 in a row. Dempsey said he will revert to the template he used in 2005 for direction on how to prepare his team.
"I think you look back at the schedule and the hype they’re going to deal with and try to protect them as much as possible," Dempsey said. "You look back at things you thought you did real well and things you didn’t and wish you could do over."
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